Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 9, 2008

How You Can Tell The McCain Camp Thinks Something Is A Winner

John McCain is notoriously hard to keep on message and stick to the script. If he doesn’t want to talk about social issues, he isn’t going to do it. If he doesn’t want to wade into Reverend Wright he won’t touch it. But when he tracks the message of the day and moves the story along you know it is big. So what did McCain talk about today? James Johnson, of course.

The McCain campaign likely views this issue as political manna — a perfect distraction from Barack Obama’s opening economic tour and a helpful talking point in McCain’s effort to convince voters that the New Politics is just like the Old Politics. As for the Obama camp, they are attempting to convince the media the issue is “overblown and irrelevant.” Well, it seems once you wade into the lobbyist gotcha game you can’t very well call foul.

John McCain is notoriously hard to keep on message and stick to the script. If he doesn’t want to talk about social issues, he isn’t going to do it. If he doesn’t want to wade into Reverend Wright he won’t touch it. But when he tracks the message of the day and moves the story along you know it is big. So what did McCain talk about today? James Johnson, of course.

The McCain campaign likely views this issue as political manna — a perfect distraction from Barack Obama’s opening economic tour and a helpful talking point in McCain’s effort to convince voters that the New Politics is just like the Old Politics. As for the Obama camp, they are attempting to convince the media the issue is “overblown and irrelevant.” Well, it seems once you wade into the lobbyist gotcha game you can’t very well call foul.

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So Much For Addressing Your Problems

First the Obama camp and their media cheerleaders denied there was a Jewish problem for Barack Obama. Then they admitted (well, it was hard not to with some dicey exit polls) that there was, but still blamed it on people for believing rumors. Now they are back to “Problem, what problem?” (Still, for a team convinced they have no problem they sure are peeved that Senator Joe Lieberman is making a point of raising Obama’s inconsistent voting record.)

Hey, the McCain camp is probably delighted if the Obama camp has decided this is a non-issue and won’t spend much time securing a key constituency in at least one key state (Florida). One wonders if self-delusion about Jewish concerns like ignoring the Wright controversy is just further evidence that Obama has a propensity to fall into “everything is fine, perfectly fine” denial. Sometimes it is better to address potentially troubling issues sooner rather than later and not wait until Election Day to recognize that your problems could not be swept under the rug.

First the Obama camp and their media cheerleaders denied there was a Jewish problem for Barack Obama. Then they admitted (well, it was hard not to with some dicey exit polls) that there was, but still blamed it on people for believing rumors. Now they are back to “Problem, what problem?” (Still, for a team convinced they have no problem they sure are peeved that Senator Joe Lieberman is making a point of raising Obama’s inconsistent voting record.)

Hey, the McCain camp is probably delighted if the Obama camp has decided this is a non-issue and won’t spend much time securing a key constituency in at least one key state (Florida). One wonders if self-delusion about Jewish concerns like ignoring the Wright controversy is just further evidence that Obama has a propensity to fall into “everything is fine, perfectly fine” denial. Sometimes it is better to address potentially troubling issues sooner rather than later and not wait until Election Day to recognize that your problems could not be swept under the rug.

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The More Things Change…

Way back in the 20th century, in 1973 to be exact, President Nixon did something brilliant: he selected William F. Buckley, Jr. to serve a three-month term as the U.S. representative to the UN Human Rights Commission, a choice akin to nominating Christopher Hitchens as a visiting professor at a Bible seminary. WFB wrote a book about the experience, a hilarious book, and he also addressed the Senate foreign relations committee in 1975 on his tenure at Turtle Bay. That appearance is contained in Let Us Talk of Many Things, a collection of Buckley’s speeches I’ve been reading. In his testimony to the Senate, Buckley imagined a coup at the UN whose purpose would be to rescue the institution from Orwellianism; his tale is such a perfect exemplar of his talents that I cannot resist passing it along:

In the session following the day of the formal closing, a bulletin came in, and the place was in pandemonium. It appears that the military attached to the UN to give technical advice on world disarmament have staged a successful coup and have taken over the General Assembly, the Security Council, and the Secretariat. In due course the UN colonels will issue their instructions, but already it is discolsed that the Soviet Union will not be permitted to talk about disarming without disarming; the Chinese may not speak about human rights without granting human rights; the Arabs will not be permitted to speak about the plight of the less developed countries without forswearing the cartelization of their oil; the Africans may not talk about racism until after subduing the leaders of Uganda, the Central African Republic, and Burundi, for a starter; and, just to prove that the colonels are not above a bill of attainder, Jamil Baroody [the Saudi ambassador] may not speak at all, on any subject, for ninety days — after which he will be put on probation, and permitted to increase the length of his speeches by one minute per month, until he reaches the maximum of ten minutes, except that at the first mention of Zionist responsibility for World War I, he has to start all over again. The delegates from Eastern Europe must wear red uniforms when they appear on the floor and, before rising to speak, must seek explicit and public permission from the delegate of the Soviet Union. A scientific tabulation will be made, under the colonels’ supervision, of the compliance of individual countries with the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and each country’s delegate will be required to wear on his lapel his nation’s ranking on that scale, which will range from one hundred to zero. Any country with a ranking of less than seventy-five will not be permitted to speak on the subject of human rights.

Simply magnificent.

Way back in the 20th century, in 1973 to be exact, President Nixon did something brilliant: he selected William F. Buckley, Jr. to serve a three-month term as the U.S. representative to the UN Human Rights Commission, a choice akin to nominating Christopher Hitchens as a visiting professor at a Bible seminary. WFB wrote a book about the experience, a hilarious book, and he also addressed the Senate foreign relations committee in 1975 on his tenure at Turtle Bay. That appearance is contained in Let Us Talk of Many Things, a collection of Buckley’s speeches I’ve been reading. In his testimony to the Senate, Buckley imagined a coup at the UN whose purpose would be to rescue the institution from Orwellianism; his tale is such a perfect exemplar of his talents that I cannot resist passing it along:

In the session following the day of the formal closing, a bulletin came in, and the place was in pandemonium. It appears that the military attached to the UN to give technical advice on world disarmament have staged a successful coup and have taken over the General Assembly, the Security Council, and the Secretariat. In due course the UN colonels will issue their instructions, but already it is discolsed that the Soviet Union will not be permitted to talk about disarming without disarming; the Chinese may not speak about human rights without granting human rights; the Arabs will not be permitted to speak about the plight of the less developed countries without forswearing the cartelization of their oil; the Africans may not talk about racism until after subduing the leaders of Uganda, the Central African Republic, and Burundi, for a starter; and, just to prove that the colonels are not above a bill of attainder, Jamil Baroody [the Saudi ambassador] may not speak at all, on any subject, for ninety days — after which he will be put on probation, and permitted to increase the length of his speeches by one minute per month, until he reaches the maximum of ten minutes, except that at the first mention of Zionist responsibility for World War I, he has to start all over again. The delegates from Eastern Europe must wear red uniforms when they appear on the floor and, before rising to speak, must seek explicit and public permission from the delegate of the Soviet Union. A scientific tabulation will be made, under the colonels’ supervision, of the compliance of individual countries with the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and each country’s delegate will be required to wear on his lapel his nation’s ranking on that scale, which will range from one hundred to zero. Any country with a ranking of less than seventy-five will not be permitted to speak on the subject of human rights.

Simply magnificent.

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James Johnson Is Just A Symptom

Marc Ambinder suggests it may be harder than it sounds to dump James Johnson and shut down the growing scandal because ” [i]n supervising the vice presidential process, Johnson has put together independent teams of lawyers and a full staff; only he really knows how all the parts fit together.” Well, this seems all the more reason to do this now, so they can redo the process, cut their losses and stem the media firestorm. But a better question is how did this happen — why didn’t anyone vet Johnson?

I am beginning to suspect that the vetting and checking process is deficient in general at the Obama camp, in part perhaps because they feel there is no need to be extra careful. They throw out “facts” — like McCain favored the Bear Stearns deal and Obama did not — which are easily disproven. They bollix themselves up on Jerusalem policy and they can’t seem to get simple historical facts correct. The gaffe machine is not just the candidate’s fault, it’s the absence of a detail-oriented and professional staff that cares about getting it right.

Part of that, no doubt, is a false sense of security developed living in a media cocoon. But with so many media outlets and information so readily available on everything from summit history to appointees’ biographies, mistakes are going to be discovered. So perhaps rather than just throwing Johnson overboard it may be more productive to examine their entire fact-checking and vetting operation. In politics, unlike memoirs, facts and accuracy matter.

Marc Ambinder suggests it may be harder than it sounds to dump James Johnson and shut down the growing scandal because ” [i]n supervising the vice presidential process, Johnson has put together independent teams of lawyers and a full staff; only he really knows how all the parts fit together.” Well, this seems all the more reason to do this now, so they can redo the process, cut their losses and stem the media firestorm. But a better question is how did this happen — why didn’t anyone vet Johnson?

I am beginning to suspect that the vetting and checking process is deficient in general at the Obama camp, in part perhaps because they feel there is no need to be extra careful. They throw out “facts” — like McCain favored the Bear Stearns deal and Obama did not — which are easily disproven. They bollix themselves up on Jerusalem policy and they can’t seem to get simple historical facts correct. The gaffe machine is not just the candidate’s fault, it’s the absence of a detail-oriented and professional staff that cares about getting it right.

Part of that, no doubt, is a false sense of security developed living in a media cocoon. But with so many media outlets and information so readily available on everything from summit history to appointees’ biographies, mistakes are going to be discovered. So perhaps rather than just throwing Johnson overboard it may be more productive to examine their entire fact-checking and vetting operation. In politics, unlike memoirs, facts and accuracy matter.

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Will McCain Exploit the Price of Gasoline?

The lead story in the New York Times this morning reports that the people worst hit by $4.00-a-gallon gasoline are those living in rural areas, where public transportation is poor and commutes often long. These are, of course, areas where per capita income is usually lower than the national average. In some rural counties, according to the Times, people are now spending as much as 13 percent of their income on gas, a big chunk of their very limited disposable income.

There are many reasons for rising oil prices to be sure, but a major one has been the furious resistance to developing any new domestic sources of oil. Oil company executives were dragged before Congress recently and berated for their “obscene profits” and their failure to plow more of those profits into exploration.

But where are these American companies supposed to explore? The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? Off limits, thanks to the Democrats. Off shore on the Pacific coast? Off limits, thanks to the Democrats. Off shore on the Florida Gulf and Atlantic coasts? Off limits, thanks to the Democrats. The Chinese are drilling for oil less than a hundred miles off the Florida coast, in Cuban waters, but not American oil companies.

Even known domestic reserves of huge potential are off limits. The oil shale of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming have upwards of 800 billion (yes, billion) barrels, three times more than the total oil reserves of Saudi Arabia. Two-thirds of all the oil shale in the world is in the Great Basin of the United States. But the Senate Appropriations Committee just killed a bill that would have ended a moratorium on developing the rules for exploiting this gigantic bonanza on federal lands, where most of the oil shale is located. It was a Democratic Senator who provided the crucial vote.

So, not only can we not exploit the oil shale we cannot even develop the rules for exploiting the oil shale.

This seems incredibly perverse. Just consider. Much of the country’s negative balance of trade is due to importing over half our oil supply. Every barrel of new domestic oil would improve the balance of trade by $136.78 (as of 9:09 this morning). Because the best oil shale is on federal land, the government would reap huge royalties if it were fully exploited. A new oil source of such proportions, once brought on line, would put intense downward pressure on oil prices globally, helping even further the balance of payments, the American economy (oil is an input in almost everything), inflation, and, just by the way, the people who are now spending 13 percent of their limited incomes on gasoline. Even the announcement that oil shale development was to begin might well cause speculators to flee the oil futures markets, bringing down prices almost immediately.

The Democrats are supposed to be the party of the little guy — what’s going on here? Simple, environmentalists are a major special interest of the Democrats, right up there with tort lawyers and unions. And environmentalists are solidly upper middle class. So four-dollar gas doesn’t impact their disposable income significantly and they, like most people, are perfectly willing to see others suffer for a noble cause.

Their objection to oil shale is, at least nominally, that it would be environmentally damaging. That need not be the case.

This would seem to be an opening the size of the Grand Canyon for McCain, and Republican candidates for Congress, to exploit this year. To be sure, McCain has always opposed drilling in ANWAR, but he can simply say that four-dollar gasoline has changed the situation, showing a flexibility he has not always shown. Then he just hammers the Democrats as the party of four-dollar gasoline in TV ad after TV ad.

Would it work? Well, that ever-reliable barometer of public opinion, the late-night TV talk shows, indicate that it will. Jay Leno recently noted that the Democrats say it would take ten years to get oil from ANWAR. He also noted that ten years ago, Bill Clinton vetoed a Republican bill that would have permitted it, and if he hadn’t, the oil would now be on line and we could sure use it. The audience roared.

The lead story in the New York Times this morning reports that the people worst hit by $4.00-a-gallon gasoline are those living in rural areas, where public transportation is poor and commutes often long. These are, of course, areas where per capita income is usually lower than the national average. In some rural counties, according to the Times, people are now spending as much as 13 percent of their income on gas, a big chunk of their very limited disposable income.

There are many reasons for rising oil prices to be sure, but a major one has been the furious resistance to developing any new domestic sources of oil. Oil company executives were dragged before Congress recently and berated for their “obscene profits” and their failure to plow more of those profits into exploration.

But where are these American companies supposed to explore? The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? Off limits, thanks to the Democrats. Off shore on the Pacific coast? Off limits, thanks to the Democrats. Off shore on the Florida Gulf and Atlantic coasts? Off limits, thanks to the Democrats. The Chinese are drilling for oil less than a hundred miles off the Florida coast, in Cuban waters, but not American oil companies.

Even known domestic reserves of huge potential are off limits. The oil shale of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming have upwards of 800 billion (yes, billion) barrels, three times more than the total oil reserves of Saudi Arabia. Two-thirds of all the oil shale in the world is in the Great Basin of the United States. But the Senate Appropriations Committee just killed a bill that would have ended a moratorium on developing the rules for exploiting this gigantic bonanza on federal lands, where most of the oil shale is located. It was a Democratic Senator who provided the crucial vote.

So, not only can we not exploit the oil shale we cannot even develop the rules for exploiting the oil shale.

This seems incredibly perverse. Just consider. Much of the country’s negative balance of trade is due to importing over half our oil supply. Every barrel of new domestic oil would improve the balance of trade by $136.78 (as of 9:09 this morning). Because the best oil shale is on federal land, the government would reap huge royalties if it were fully exploited. A new oil source of such proportions, once brought on line, would put intense downward pressure on oil prices globally, helping even further the balance of payments, the American economy (oil is an input in almost everything), inflation, and, just by the way, the people who are now spending 13 percent of their limited incomes on gasoline. Even the announcement that oil shale development was to begin might well cause speculators to flee the oil futures markets, bringing down prices almost immediately.

The Democrats are supposed to be the party of the little guy — what’s going on here? Simple, environmentalists are a major special interest of the Democrats, right up there with tort lawyers and unions. And environmentalists are solidly upper middle class. So four-dollar gas doesn’t impact their disposable income significantly and they, like most people, are perfectly willing to see others suffer for a noble cause.

Their objection to oil shale is, at least nominally, that it would be environmentally damaging. That need not be the case.

This would seem to be an opening the size of the Grand Canyon for McCain, and Republican candidates for Congress, to exploit this year. To be sure, McCain has always opposed drilling in ANWAR, but he can simply say that four-dollar gasoline has changed the situation, showing a flexibility he has not always shown. Then he just hammers the Democrats as the party of four-dollar gasoline in TV ad after TV ad.

Would it work? Well, that ever-reliable barometer of public opinion, the late-night TV talk shows, indicate that it will. Jay Leno recently noted that the Democrats say it would take ten years to get oil from ANWAR. He also noted that ten years ago, Bill Clinton vetoed a Republican bill that would have permitted it, and if he hadn’t, the oil would now be on line and we could sure use it. The audience roared.

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Southeast Asia’s Islamists Hurt

Positive developments in the War on Terror seem to be multiplying by the day.
There is a piece in today’s New York Times about the progress being made in the fight against Islamic terrorist groups in Southeast Asia. The most dangerous organizations, Jemay Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf, have taken huge blows in operational capabilities and public support over the past three years.

Even the New York Times admits the U.S.’s crucial contribution to this fight:

The United States and Australia, in particular, have played major roles in helping Southeast Asian countries combat terrorist threats in the region.

But the Times is the Times after all, and the piece goes on, without citing specific evidence, to describe the American influence in the Phillipines as crude and overly militaristic. However,  here’s the important part:

In Indonesia, since 2005 authorities have arrested more than 200 members of Jemaah Islamiyah, an Islamic group with ties to Al Qaeda. In the Philippines, an American-backed military campaign has the Abu Sayyaf Group, an Islamic extremist organization with links to Jemaah Islamiyah, clinging to footholds in the jungles of a handful of southern islands, officials said.

Speaking of links, here’s something you won’t find in the New York Times. Saddam Hussein’s regime supported Aby Sayyaf. A 2006 Weekly Standard piece by Stephen Hayes has all the details. Iraqi intelligence routinely offered Abu Sayyaf financial support, using Lybian intelligence as a go-between. Moreover, Hisham Hussein, head of the Iraqi embassy in Manilla seems to have had a hands-on role in Abu Sayyaf’s acts of terrorism — including operations that killed Americans.

With a wealthy sponsor such as Saddam and the cover of then-rogue Libya, it seems doubtful that Abu Sayyaf could have been marginalized without  shifts in the greater Islamist network. Saddam is gone, and the Iraq War drove Libya to give up all WMD work. The Times isn’t about to ask the critical question, but someone needs to: Is the decrease in Islamic terrorism in Southeast Asia yet another positive turn in the War on Terror that can in some way be attributed to the invasion in Iraq?

Positive developments in the War on Terror seem to be multiplying by the day.
There is a piece in today’s New York Times about the progress being made in the fight against Islamic terrorist groups in Southeast Asia. The most dangerous organizations, Jemay Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf, have taken huge blows in operational capabilities and public support over the past three years.

Even the New York Times admits the U.S.’s crucial contribution to this fight:

The United States and Australia, in particular, have played major roles in helping Southeast Asian countries combat terrorist threats in the region.

But the Times is the Times after all, and the piece goes on, without citing specific evidence, to describe the American influence in the Phillipines as crude and overly militaristic. However,  here’s the important part:

In Indonesia, since 2005 authorities have arrested more than 200 members of Jemaah Islamiyah, an Islamic group with ties to Al Qaeda. In the Philippines, an American-backed military campaign has the Abu Sayyaf Group, an Islamic extremist organization with links to Jemaah Islamiyah, clinging to footholds in the jungles of a handful of southern islands, officials said.

Speaking of links, here’s something you won’t find in the New York Times. Saddam Hussein’s regime supported Aby Sayyaf. A 2006 Weekly Standard piece by Stephen Hayes has all the details. Iraqi intelligence routinely offered Abu Sayyaf financial support, using Lybian intelligence as a go-between. Moreover, Hisham Hussein, head of the Iraqi embassy in Manilla seems to have had a hands-on role in Abu Sayyaf’s acts of terrorism — including operations that killed Americans.

With a wealthy sponsor such as Saddam and the cover of then-rogue Libya, it seems doubtful that Abu Sayyaf could have been marginalized without  shifts in the greater Islamist network. Saddam is gone, and the Iraq War drove Libya to give up all WMD work. The Times isn’t about to ask the critical question, but someone needs to: Is the decrease in Islamic terrorism in Southeast Asia yet another positive turn in the War on Terror that can in some way be attributed to the invasion in Iraq?

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McCain Economic Response

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) and McCain senior policy advisor Doug Holtz-Eakin held a conference call to respond to the Barack Obama economic speech today. Holtz-Eakin pointed out two alleged factual errors in the Obama speech. He contends that Obama is incorrect that John McCain backed the Bears-Stearns bailout; McCain opposed it while Obama said supportive things at the time, Holtz-Eakin said. Holtz-Eakin contends that saying McCain is in favor of a massive tax cut for Exxon as Obama did is inaccurate; McCain voted against the 2005 Bush-Cheney energy bill and the tax breaks for oil companies while Obama supported the bill.

Not surprisingly Holtz-Eakin hit Obama on James Johnson, saying that Johnson had “benefited from preferential lending” and is “thoroughly entangled” in the subprime mortgage crisis.

I asked Holtz-Eakin about McCain’s promise to simplify the tax code and what he thinks about the breakdown in support for free trade. On tax policy, he said they would continue to roll out plans but declined to preempt McCain by describing them in detail. On trade, he said that McCain was committed to a one-stop retraining program for displaced workers and that by restoring trust in government, such as by eliminating earmarks, people would have greater faith in the government including trade policy and enforcement. He said that McCain was disappointed by the “sad demagoguing in political battles” by the Democrats and that the “truth of history” confirms the benefits of free trade.

In response to other questions, Holtz-Eakin said it was impossible to evaluate Obama’s claim that his spending plans are paid for by his tax hikes since he refuses to provide specifics, such as how high he would raise capital gains taxes. Senator Burr dismissed the notion that North Carolina was “in play” this year, pointing to polling and McCain’s conservative economic record.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) and McCain senior policy advisor Doug Holtz-Eakin held a conference call to respond to the Barack Obama economic speech today. Holtz-Eakin pointed out two alleged factual errors in the Obama speech. He contends that Obama is incorrect that John McCain backed the Bears-Stearns bailout; McCain opposed it while Obama said supportive things at the time, Holtz-Eakin said. Holtz-Eakin contends that saying McCain is in favor of a massive tax cut for Exxon as Obama did is inaccurate; McCain voted against the 2005 Bush-Cheney energy bill and the tax breaks for oil companies while Obama supported the bill.

Not surprisingly Holtz-Eakin hit Obama on James Johnson, saying that Johnson had “benefited from preferential lending” and is “thoroughly entangled” in the subprime mortgage crisis.

I asked Holtz-Eakin about McCain’s promise to simplify the tax code and what he thinks about the breakdown in support for free trade. On tax policy, he said they would continue to roll out plans but declined to preempt McCain by describing them in detail. On trade, he said that McCain was committed to a one-stop retraining program for displaced workers and that by restoring trust in government, such as by eliminating earmarks, people would have greater faith in the government including trade policy and enforcement. He said that McCain was disappointed by the “sad demagoguing in political battles” by the Democrats and that the “truth of history” confirms the benefits of free trade.

In response to other questions, Holtz-Eakin said it was impossible to evaluate Obama’s claim that his spending plans are paid for by his tax hikes since he refuses to provide specifics, such as how high he would raise capital gains taxes. Senator Burr dismissed the notion that North Carolina was “in play” this year, pointing to polling and McCain’s conservative economic record.

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Sarkozy’s Retreat, Part Deux

Back in 2004–when the United States and France were on such bad terms that Congress had renamed its potato wedges “freedom fries”–Paris and Washington managed to locate one key area of Middle Eastern policy consensus: Lebanon.

In this vein, the otherwise diametrically opposed Chirac and Bush administrations agreed on the need to end Syria’s decades-long occupation and disarm Hezbollah, cosponsoring United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559 to that effect.  When international pressure mounted against Syria in the aftermath of the Hariri assassination and forced its swift withdrawal, this limited sphere of French-American cooperation proved influential, with support for weakening Hezbollah remaining a central feature of the West’s outlook on Lebanon.  Early in his tenure, President Nicholas Sarkozy bolstered France’s commitment to Lebanese stability when he suspended ties with Syria once it became clear that Damascus was exacerbating the March 14th coalition-Hezbollah standoff.

But in recent weeks, Sarkozy has charted a disturbing retreat from this position.  Two weeks ago, Sarkozy phoned Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to thank him for his “tireless efforts” in support of the Doha agreement.  This was an outrageous maneuver: the Doha agreement actually gives Assad the means to interfere further in Lebanese politics, and Sarkozy thus walked away from a five-month boycott of Syria with nothing to show for it.

Then, this weekend, Sarkozy led a French delegation to Beirut, where he met with Hezbollah MP Mohammed Raad.  Although the media is trivializing this encounter as having been merely one of many that Sarkozy had with leaders from each of Lebanon’s parliamentary groups, don’t be fooled.  Indeed, Sarkozy reportedly broached the issue of the Shebaa Farms with Hezbollah during his visit-the first step of what Sarkozy intends to be a process in which Israel and Hezbollah will negotiate over this contested region through his good offices.  As a consequence, Sarkozy is diverging sharply from French policy of sidelining Hezbollah, with his engagement of the Iranian-backed militant group likely boosting it domestically.

Sarkozy’s new strategy in Lebanon embodies the reasoning of appeasement: by conceding certain key interests to violent adversaries, he hopes to win peace and stability.  History suggests that negotiating with Islamist groups achieves neither: negotiations typically fail, and provide these groups with new justifications for intensifying their militant struggle against the adversary of the day.  For this reason, let’s hope that Sarkozy has an exit strategy for his current venture into Lebanese politics-a strategy that goes well beyond opening “a new page” in the French-Syrian relationship.

Back in 2004–when the United States and France were on such bad terms that Congress had renamed its potato wedges “freedom fries”–Paris and Washington managed to locate one key area of Middle Eastern policy consensus: Lebanon.

In this vein, the otherwise diametrically opposed Chirac and Bush administrations agreed on the need to end Syria’s decades-long occupation and disarm Hezbollah, cosponsoring United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559 to that effect.  When international pressure mounted against Syria in the aftermath of the Hariri assassination and forced its swift withdrawal, this limited sphere of French-American cooperation proved influential, with support for weakening Hezbollah remaining a central feature of the West’s outlook on Lebanon.  Early in his tenure, President Nicholas Sarkozy bolstered France’s commitment to Lebanese stability when he suspended ties with Syria once it became clear that Damascus was exacerbating the March 14th coalition-Hezbollah standoff.

But in recent weeks, Sarkozy has charted a disturbing retreat from this position.  Two weeks ago, Sarkozy phoned Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to thank him for his “tireless efforts” in support of the Doha agreement.  This was an outrageous maneuver: the Doha agreement actually gives Assad the means to interfere further in Lebanese politics, and Sarkozy thus walked away from a five-month boycott of Syria with nothing to show for it.

Then, this weekend, Sarkozy led a French delegation to Beirut, where he met with Hezbollah MP Mohammed Raad.  Although the media is trivializing this encounter as having been merely one of many that Sarkozy had with leaders from each of Lebanon’s parliamentary groups, don’t be fooled.  Indeed, Sarkozy reportedly broached the issue of the Shebaa Farms with Hezbollah during his visit-the first step of what Sarkozy intends to be a process in which Israel and Hezbollah will negotiate over this contested region through his good offices.  As a consequence, Sarkozy is diverging sharply from French policy of sidelining Hezbollah, with his engagement of the Iranian-backed militant group likely boosting it domestically.

Sarkozy’s new strategy in Lebanon embodies the reasoning of appeasement: by conceding certain key interests to violent adversaries, he hopes to win peace and stability.  History suggests that negotiating with Islamist groups achieves neither: negotiations typically fail, and provide these groups with new justifications for intensifying their militant struggle against the adversary of the day.  For this reason, let’s hope that Sarkozy has an exit strategy for his current venture into Lebanese politics-a strategy that goes well beyond opening “a new page” in the French-Syrian relationship.

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The Media Gets Interested

The cable news and other media outlets have latched on to the Obama-James Johnson story. Actually, there was plenty to ponder about James Johnson before his discounted loan deal came to light. He was an adept insider who, as Fannie Mae CEO, hired Washington lobbyists — those bad people who supposedly work only for Republicans — to figure out a way to avoid Congressional oversight and paying taxes on Fannie Mae profits. At the time, the move outraged Democrats. Somehow he managed to keep almost $2M in bonus money despite improper statements of Fannie Mae’s profits as described here:

An Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight report in September accused the company of improperly deferring $200 million of estimated expenses in 1998, which allowed management to receive full annual bonuses. Had the expenses been recorded that year, no bonuses would have been paid, the report said. Fannie Mae reported paying bonuses in 1998 to Johnson, who received $1.932 million; Raines, who then was chairman-designate, $1.11 million; Chief Operating Officer Lawrence M. Small, $1.108 million; Vice Chairman Jamie S. Gorelick, a former deputy attorney general, $779,625; Chief Financial Officer J. Timothy Howard, $493,750; and Robert J. Levin, who was executive vice president for housing and community development, $493,750.

Not surprisingly the RNC is going to town on this, releasing this statement:

Barack Obama routinely rails against lobbyists and corporate insiders, yet his campaign is stocked with both. Now it turns out that the man leading his vice presidential selection team is receiving highly questionable loans. With millions of Americans struggling to pay their mortgages, it raises serious questions about Obama’s judgment when we learn members of his campaign leadership are receiving favors that the average American would never get. With Obama discussing the economy today, he needs to stand up and address the mortgage scandals within his campaign.

It is a bit of a message problem for Obama on a day he’s  at the Bush economic plans with statements like this:

And for all of George Bush’s professed faith in free markets, the markets have hardly been free – not when the gates of Washington are thrown open to high-priced lobbyists who rig the rules of the road and riddle our tax code with special interest favors and corporate loopholes. As a result of such special-interest driven policies and lax regulation, we haven’t seen prosperity trickling down to Main Street. Instead, a housing crisis that could leave up to two million homeowners facing foreclosure has shaken confidence in the entire economy.

Nothing gets the press going like blatant hypocrisy.

The cable news and other media outlets have latched on to the Obama-James Johnson story. Actually, there was plenty to ponder about James Johnson before his discounted loan deal came to light. He was an adept insider who, as Fannie Mae CEO, hired Washington lobbyists — those bad people who supposedly work only for Republicans — to figure out a way to avoid Congressional oversight and paying taxes on Fannie Mae profits. At the time, the move outraged Democrats. Somehow he managed to keep almost $2M in bonus money despite improper statements of Fannie Mae’s profits as described here:

An Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight report in September accused the company of improperly deferring $200 million of estimated expenses in 1998, which allowed management to receive full annual bonuses. Had the expenses been recorded that year, no bonuses would have been paid, the report said. Fannie Mae reported paying bonuses in 1998 to Johnson, who received $1.932 million; Raines, who then was chairman-designate, $1.11 million; Chief Operating Officer Lawrence M. Small, $1.108 million; Vice Chairman Jamie S. Gorelick, a former deputy attorney general, $779,625; Chief Financial Officer J. Timothy Howard, $493,750; and Robert J. Levin, who was executive vice president for housing and community development, $493,750.

Not surprisingly the RNC is going to town on this, releasing this statement:

Barack Obama routinely rails against lobbyists and corporate insiders, yet his campaign is stocked with both. Now it turns out that the man leading his vice presidential selection team is receiving highly questionable loans. With millions of Americans struggling to pay their mortgages, it raises serious questions about Obama’s judgment when we learn members of his campaign leadership are receiving favors that the average American would never get. With Obama discussing the economy today, he needs to stand up and address the mortgage scandals within his campaign.

It is a bit of a message problem for Obama on a day he’s  at the Bush economic plans with statements like this:

And for all of George Bush’s professed faith in free markets, the markets have hardly been free – not when the gates of Washington are thrown open to high-priced lobbyists who rig the rules of the road and riddle our tax code with special interest favors and corporate loopholes. As a result of such special-interest driven policies and lax regulation, we haven’t seen prosperity trickling down to Main Street. Instead, a housing crisis that could leave up to two million homeowners facing foreclosure has shaken confidence in the entire economy.

Nothing gets the press going like blatant hypocrisy.

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An Afghanistan Awakening?

Eli Lake has written a tremendously important story in today’s New York Sun. Sheik Ahmad al-Rishawi, leader of the Anbar movement that grew into an Iraq-wide effort to purge the country of al-Qaeda, is ready and willing to recreate his efforts on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

“Al Qaeda is an ideology,” Sheik Ahmad said. “We can defeat them inside Iraq and we can defeat them in any country.”

Forgive me for invoking Chris Matthews, but every time I read Sheik Ahmad’s quote I do feel a thrill going up my leg.

Would it not be the most fortuitous irony if the war maligned as a catastrophic detour in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden actually ended up birthing the means of Bin Laden’s capture? We now know that victory in Iraq is well within reach. We know that Sunni Awakening groups are rejecting Bin Ladenism. We know that the Maliki government is fighting Shiite extremism, and we know that political reconciliation is happening. The hope has been that a consensually governed Iraq, with a population opposed to tyranny and terror, would serve as a regional model for Muslim states still in the clutches of totalitarians and extremists. But the notion of Iraq as a true ideological and operational epicenter of Islamic anti-terrorism forces is a potential development so monumental that even the war’s most passionate advocates never toyed with the idea in public. Yet, it just might happen. Here’s more from the Sun:

Sheik Ahmad al-Rishawi told The New York Sun that in April he prepared a 47-page study on Afghanistan and its tribes for the deputy chief of mission at the American embassy in Kabul, Christopher Dell. When asked if he would send military advisers to Afghanistan to assist American troops fighting there, he said: “I have no problem with this; if they ask me, I will do it.”

[…]

When Sheik Ahmad’s brother, Sheik Sattar, met with Mr. Bush in Anbar last fall, he told the president that he dedicated his victory over Al Qaeda to the victims of the attacks of September 11, 2001. On September 13, 2007, Sheik Sattar was assassinated by an improvised explosive device. Since then, his brother Sheik Ahmad has led the awakening movement.

There goes the other leg.

Sheik Ahmad calls President Bush “a brave man” and “a wise man” and when he gives public addresses he is introduced as a “friend of General Petraeus.” The Sheik is in Washington this week and he’s advocating for America’s continued operational assistance in Iraq. How I wish for a face-to-face encounter between Sheik Ahmad and Nancy Pelosi, so that the Speaker of the House can look this man in the eye and tell him about the failures of the war, the failures of the surge, the failures of the Iraqi government, the “goodwill” of the Iranians, and the legions of new terrorists created by the invasion.

Eli Lake has written a tremendously important story in today’s New York Sun. Sheik Ahmad al-Rishawi, leader of the Anbar movement that grew into an Iraq-wide effort to purge the country of al-Qaeda, is ready and willing to recreate his efforts on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

“Al Qaeda is an ideology,” Sheik Ahmad said. “We can defeat them inside Iraq and we can defeat them in any country.”

Forgive me for invoking Chris Matthews, but every time I read Sheik Ahmad’s quote I do feel a thrill going up my leg.

Would it not be the most fortuitous irony if the war maligned as a catastrophic detour in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden actually ended up birthing the means of Bin Laden’s capture? We now know that victory in Iraq is well within reach. We know that Sunni Awakening groups are rejecting Bin Ladenism. We know that the Maliki government is fighting Shiite extremism, and we know that political reconciliation is happening. The hope has been that a consensually governed Iraq, with a population opposed to tyranny and terror, would serve as a regional model for Muslim states still in the clutches of totalitarians and extremists. But the notion of Iraq as a true ideological and operational epicenter of Islamic anti-terrorism forces is a potential development so monumental that even the war’s most passionate advocates never toyed with the idea in public. Yet, it just might happen. Here’s more from the Sun:

Sheik Ahmad al-Rishawi told The New York Sun that in April he prepared a 47-page study on Afghanistan and its tribes for the deputy chief of mission at the American embassy in Kabul, Christopher Dell. When asked if he would send military advisers to Afghanistan to assist American troops fighting there, he said: “I have no problem with this; if they ask me, I will do it.”

[…]

When Sheik Ahmad’s brother, Sheik Sattar, met with Mr. Bush in Anbar last fall, he told the president that he dedicated his victory over Al Qaeda to the victims of the attacks of September 11, 2001. On September 13, 2007, Sheik Sattar was assassinated by an improvised explosive device. Since then, his brother Sheik Ahmad has led the awakening movement.

There goes the other leg.

Sheik Ahmad calls President Bush “a brave man” and “a wise man” and when he gives public addresses he is introduced as a “friend of General Petraeus.” The Sheik is in Washington this week and he’s advocating for America’s continued operational assistance in Iraq. How I wish for a face-to-face encounter between Sheik Ahmad and Nancy Pelosi, so that the Speaker of the House can look this man in the eye and tell him about the failures of the war, the failures of the surge, the failures of the Iraqi government, the “goodwill” of the Iranians, and the legions of new terrorists created by the invasion.

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Chickens: Meet The Roost

Barack Obama and his media cohorts have been playing gotcha with John McCain’s advisors who are or were lobbyists. It is obvious that he wants to scuff up McCain’s image as a maverick reformer. As I have argued before, it is a tough task because McCain really has been hard on special interests, to the chagrin of those interests that usually line up with his own party (i.e. drug companies). But if you are going to be holier than thou, you should be holier than thou.

The VP search committee represents Obama’s first significant set of appointments since winning the nomination. When he tapped James Johnson he got some flak, given Johnson’s reputation as a consumate Washington insider and his role in the troubled Fannie Mae. Now it turns out he got some nicely discounted loans through a “friends” program (who knew these just weren’t for phone companies?) of Countrywide CEO and favorite Democratic party villian Angelo Mozilo.

Perhaps someone should ask Henry Waxman what he thinks of this. Waxman, after all, seemed very concerned that “Our nation’s top executives seem to live by a different set of rules.”

Why would Obama select someone so obviously at odds with his New Politics image? Maybe his co-committee member Eric Holder did the vetting on Johnson. (He seems to have a hard time spotting conflicts of interest.) But more seriously, I think it’s clear that the whole New Politics/anti-insider bit is a canard and you simply can’t find competent people to run a campaign or administration who have never worked in Washington. That said, selecting someone who took discounted loans when you are running against the supposed evil-doers in the mortgage industry is potentially a big problem.

It will be interesting to see how strenuously the media, which has a front page story for every McCain team member with a lobbying connection, goes after Obama on this one. So far the story is attracting attention.

Barack Obama and his media cohorts have been playing gotcha with John McCain’s advisors who are or were lobbyists. It is obvious that he wants to scuff up McCain’s image as a maverick reformer. As I have argued before, it is a tough task because McCain really has been hard on special interests, to the chagrin of those interests that usually line up with his own party (i.e. drug companies). But if you are going to be holier than thou, you should be holier than thou.

The VP search committee represents Obama’s first significant set of appointments since winning the nomination. When he tapped James Johnson he got some flak, given Johnson’s reputation as a consumate Washington insider and his role in the troubled Fannie Mae. Now it turns out he got some nicely discounted loans through a “friends” program (who knew these just weren’t for phone companies?) of Countrywide CEO and favorite Democratic party villian Angelo Mozilo.

Perhaps someone should ask Henry Waxman what he thinks of this. Waxman, after all, seemed very concerned that “Our nation’s top executives seem to live by a different set of rules.”

Why would Obama select someone so obviously at odds with his New Politics image? Maybe his co-committee member Eric Holder did the vetting on Johnson. (He seems to have a hard time spotting conflicts of interest.) But more seriously, I think it’s clear that the whole New Politics/anti-insider bit is a canard and you simply can’t find competent people to run a campaign or administration who have never worked in Washington. That said, selecting someone who took discounted loans when you are running against the supposed evil-doers in the mortgage industry is potentially a big problem.

It will be interesting to see how strenuously the media, which has a front page story for every McCain team member with a lobbying connection, goes after Obama on this one. So far the story is attracting attention.

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Late Is Better Than Never

“The early months of 2009 may well be the most precarious period in recent American history,” write Richard Armitage and Michele Flournoy in today’s Washington Post.   They note that transitions from one president to the next take at least six months but that the world won’t wait for the 44th president to establish his administration.

Armitage and Flournoy are correct.  Adversaries — and even friends — are bound to test the United States at the end of this year and the first part of the next one.  In the institutional disarray that inevitably occurs as some officials depart and others arrive, it is virtually certain that a leader outside our borders will see an opening and try to score an advantage.  The Chinese, for example, routinely do something in the first days of an administration to gauge its future course, and Iran’s Ahmadinejad, a troublemaker in the best of circumstances, is surely making plans for the interregnum at this moment.   Kim Jong Il, from all we can see in the six-party disarmament negotiations, has been thinking about this transition for at least the last half year.

So we are on the edge of a turbulent moment in history.  What can we do?  As an initial matter, Armitage and Flournoy propose an ambitious and expedited process for putting appointees into place.  For our part, we can make sure that both major candidates talk about foreign policy during the general campaign.  And then there’s the most important factor, The Decider-in-Chief.  This morning, the Washington Post reports that President Bush has been trying to shape his legacy by using historical analogies.  Yet his best vindication will be success, specifically starting policies that will lead to success in a McCain or Obama administration.  If President Bush wants to escape the tag of “worst president ever” — which many have already assigned to him — then he better establish the framework that creates a stronger international system.

Apart from the war in Iraq, his preferred approach has been to enlist Russia and China to solve the problems of the world.  The general theory is that no one can stand up to the combined weight of the three most powerful nations today.  Yes, that is true as a theoretical matter.  The problem, however, is that American engagement of these two giants has persuaded their leaders to act more assertively than cooperatively.  As a result, Moscow and Beijing have frustrated Washington’s initiatives at almost every turn.

President Bush has doggedly continued his approach — his remedy for the failure of engagement in the past is even more engagement in the future — and as he has pursued failed policies problems have gotten worse.  North Korea, for example, is now a recognized nuclear power, Iran is about to become one, our democratic allies feel abandoned, and abhorrent regimes continue to mock us.  The authoritarian states are banding together around Russia and China, and the leader of the West enables all of them by adopting policies that make Moscow and Beijing even stronger.  Naturally, other nations see Russian and Chinese success and now question the value of free markets and representative governance.  If Iraq should destroy itself in an explosion of sectarian violence, the result will not be nearly as injurious to the world as what will happen if we continue to empower Moscow and Beijing.

President Bush does not have enough time to tame the Russians and the Chinese.  Yet he can begin to alter course and at least establish an approach that will shape the policies of his successor.  Late, as they say, is better than never.

“The early months of 2009 may well be the most precarious period in recent American history,” write Richard Armitage and Michele Flournoy in today’s Washington Post.   They note that transitions from one president to the next take at least six months but that the world won’t wait for the 44th president to establish his administration.

Armitage and Flournoy are correct.  Adversaries — and even friends — are bound to test the United States at the end of this year and the first part of the next one.  In the institutional disarray that inevitably occurs as some officials depart and others arrive, it is virtually certain that a leader outside our borders will see an opening and try to score an advantage.  The Chinese, for example, routinely do something in the first days of an administration to gauge its future course, and Iran’s Ahmadinejad, a troublemaker in the best of circumstances, is surely making plans for the interregnum at this moment.   Kim Jong Il, from all we can see in the six-party disarmament negotiations, has been thinking about this transition for at least the last half year.

So we are on the edge of a turbulent moment in history.  What can we do?  As an initial matter, Armitage and Flournoy propose an ambitious and expedited process for putting appointees into place.  For our part, we can make sure that both major candidates talk about foreign policy during the general campaign.  And then there’s the most important factor, The Decider-in-Chief.  This morning, the Washington Post reports that President Bush has been trying to shape his legacy by using historical analogies.  Yet his best vindication will be success, specifically starting policies that will lead to success in a McCain or Obama administration.  If President Bush wants to escape the tag of “worst president ever” — which many have already assigned to him — then he better establish the framework that creates a stronger international system.

Apart from the war in Iraq, his preferred approach has been to enlist Russia and China to solve the problems of the world.  The general theory is that no one can stand up to the combined weight of the three most powerful nations today.  Yes, that is true as a theoretical matter.  The problem, however, is that American engagement of these two giants has persuaded their leaders to act more assertively than cooperatively.  As a result, Moscow and Beijing have frustrated Washington’s initiatives at almost every turn.

President Bush has doggedly continued his approach — his remedy for the failure of engagement in the past is even more engagement in the future — and as he has pursued failed policies problems have gotten worse.  North Korea, for example, is now a recognized nuclear power, Iran is about to become one, our democratic allies feel abandoned, and abhorrent regimes continue to mock us.  The authoritarian states are banding together around Russia and China, and the leader of the West enables all of them by adopting policies that make Moscow and Beijing even stronger.  Naturally, other nations see Russian and Chinese success and now question the value of free markets and representative governance.  If Iraq should destroy itself in an explosion of sectarian violence, the result will not be nearly as injurious to the world as what will happen if we continue to empower Moscow and Beijing.

President Bush does not have enough time to tame the Russians and the Chinese.  Yet he can begin to alter course and at least establish an approach that will shape the policies of his successor.  Late, as they say, is better than never.

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They Aren’t Just Booing

Apparently the boo birds in the crowd at Hillary Clinton goodbye speech are not going away. Instead they are organizing themselves and threatening to vote for John McCain. They have their own website where aggrieved Hillary supporters are plotting revenge. The founders say they have had half a million visitors at the site and they have Howard Dean calling to see what he can do to keep them in the fold.

The aggrieved say they will vote for McCain but the range of options they throw out — vote for McCain, write in Hillary or sit home — suggest they aren’t part of some nefarious plot by the Republicans to sing McCain’s praises. It doesn’t seem they are heeding their heroine’s pleas to get on the Barack Obama Express. Maybe emotions will cool with the passage of time, but once people are invested in a mass effort it is hard to give it up and concede their ire was just a passing emotion.

Apparently the boo birds in the crowd at Hillary Clinton goodbye speech are not going away. Instead they are organizing themselves and threatening to vote for John McCain. They have their own website where aggrieved Hillary supporters are plotting revenge. The founders say they have had half a million visitors at the site and they have Howard Dean calling to see what he can do to keep them in the fold.

The aggrieved say they will vote for McCain but the range of options they throw out — vote for McCain, write in Hillary or sit home — suggest they aren’t part of some nefarious plot by the Republicans to sing McCain’s praises. It doesn’t seem they are heeding their heroine’s pleas to get on the Barack Obama Express. Maybe emotions will cool with the passage of time, but once people are invested in a mass effort it is hard to give it up and concede their ire was just a passing emotion.

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The Quds Force and Obama

There’s an interesting tidbit in David Ignatius’s Washington Post column today in which he tries to plumb the mind of Brig. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, who, as Ignatius notes, “is responsible for Iran’s covert activities in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and other battlegrounds.” (For “covert activities,” read “terrorist activities.”) Writes Ignatius:

Soleimani is confident about Iran’s rising power in the region, according to an Arab official who met recently with him. He sees an America that is weakened by the war in Iraq but still potent. He has told visitors that U.S. and Iranian goals in Iraq are similar, despite the rhetoric of confrontation. But he has expressed no interest in direct, high-level talks. The Quds Force commander prefers to run out the clock on the Bush administration, hoping that the next administration will be more favorable to Iran’s interests.

I italicized the last line because it’s worth pondering its implication, which Ignatius doesn’t spell out. There is, of course, no earthly reason why the Quds Force commander could expect that a John McCain (whose campaign — full disclosure — I advise on foreign policy) would be more favorable to his interests. So the implication is that Iran’s top terrorist is hoping that Americans will elect Barack Obama this fall. If this is in fact the case, perhaps the Democratic nominee should ask himself what it is about his candidacy that one of our most dangerous enemies finds so encouraging. At the very least he should try to appear a little tougher so that the leaders of Iran don’t extend him a formal endorsement, the way that Hamas briefly did.

There’s an interesting tidbit in David Ignatius’s Washington Post column today in which he tries to plumb the mind of Brig. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, who, as Ignatius notes, “is responsible for Iran’s covert activities in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and other battlegrounds.” (For “covert activities,” read “terrorist activities.”) Writes Ignatius:

Soleimani is confident about Iran’s rising power in the region, according to an Arab official who met recently with him. He sees an America that is weakened by the war in Iraq but still potent. He has told visitors that U.S. and Iranian goals in Iraq are similar, despite the rhetoric of confrontation. But he has expressed no interest in direct, high-level talks. The Quds Force commander prefers to run out the clock on the Bush administration, hoping that the next administration will be more favorable to Iran’s interests.

I italicized the last line because it’s worth pondering its implication, which Ignatius doesn’t spell out. There is, of course, no earthly reason why the Quds Force commander could expect that a John McCain (whose campaign — full disclosure — I advise on foreign policy) would be more favorable to his interests. So the implication is that Iran’s top terrorist is hoping that Americans will elect Barack Obama this fall. If this is in fact the case, perhaps the Democratic nominee should ask himself what it is about his candidacy that one of our most dangerous enemies finds so encouraging. At the very least he should try to appear a little tougher so that the leaders of Iran don’t extend him a formal endorsement, the way that Hamas briefly did.

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Oh Come On

Many have commented on the appearance of anti-Semitic material on Barack Obama’s official website. I can hardly be considered an Obama apologist, but on this I have to take issue with many conservative critics.

First, the Obama campaign acted responsibly and very quickly took down the offending material. Believe me, as one who has written on controversial subjects for a number of outlets, the speed with which they acted was impressive. Second, it is a dangerous business to get into the “look who they attract to their campaign” game. In an election with loose canons on both sides it is not clear who will come out the winner if you go down that road. Third, goodness knows there is plenty to criticize with regard to what Obama actually says and does. This strikes me as a counterproductive distraction for those opposing Obama. So sometimes it is not worthwhile or wise to pick a fight over everything.

Many have commented on the appearance of anti-Semitic material on Barack Obama’s official website. I can hardly be considered an Obama apologist, but on this I have to take issue with many conservative critics.

First, the Obama campaign acted responsibly and very quickly took down the offending material. Believe me, as one who has written on controversial subjects for a number of outlets, the speed with which they acted was impressive. Second, it is a dangerous business to get into the “look who they attract to their campaign” game. In an election with loose canons on both sides it is not clear who will come out the winner if you go down that road. Third, goodness knows there is plenty to criticize with regard to what Obama actually says and does. This strikes me as a counterproductive distraction for those opposing Obama. So sometimes it is not worthwhile or wise to pick a fight over everything.

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Bush Did Not Lie

Fred Hiatt has written an important column in today’s Washington Post. Hiatt has taken the time to read and carefully analyze a report released by Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.VA), chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence. Rockefeller’s charge, boiled down to its essence, is that President Bush and his Administration lied during the run-up to the war with Iraq.

“In making the case for war,” Rockefeller’s report says, “the administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when it was unsubstantiated, contradicted or even nonexistent.”

The problem with this claim, as Hiatt points out, is that in Rockefeller’s own report we learn that what President Bush said about Iraq’s nuclear weapons program, about biological weapons, production capability and mobile laboratories, about chemical weapons, and about Saddam’s alleged ties to terrorism were repeatedly “substantiated by intelligence information.” And Hiatt helpfully quotes from a statement by Rockefeller made in October 2002:

There has been some debate over how ‘imminent’ a threat Iraq poses. I do believe Iraq poses an imminent threat. I also believe after September 11, that question is increasingly outdated. . . . To insist on further evidence could put some of our fellow Americans at risk. Can we afford to take that chance? I do not think we can.

The Committee’s vice chairman, Senator Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), filed (with three other Republican senators) a minority dissent that includes many similar statements by other Democrats and points out that for all the partisan skewing of the Rockefeller report, “the reports essentially validate what we have been saying all along: that policymakers’ statements were substantiated by the intelligence.”

This judgment is consistent with the March 31, 2005 Report to the President by The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, also known as the Silberman-Robb Report, which stated

The Intelligence Community’s Iraq assessments were … riddled with errors. Contrary to what some defenders of the Intelligence Community have since asserted, these errors were not the result of a few harried months in 2002. Most of the fundamental errors were made and communicated to policymakers well before the now-infamous NIE of October 2002, and were not corrected in the months between the NIE and the start of the war. They were not isolated or random failings. Iraq had been an intelligence challenge at the forefront of U.S. attention for over a decade. It was a known adversary that had already fought one war with the United States and seemed increasingly likely to fight another. But, after ten years of effort, the Intelligence Community still had no good intelligence on the status of Iraq’s weapons programs.

Hiatt points out that some in the Bush Administration spoke with too much certainty at times, but that is a world apart from intentionally misleading people. And Hiatt’s larger point is also correct:

the phony “Bush lied” story line distracts from the biggest prewar failure: the fact that so much of the intelligence upon which Bush and Rockefeller and everyone else relied turned out to be tragically, catastrophically wrong. And it trivializes a double dilemma that President Bill Clinton faced before Bush and that President Obama or McCain may well face after: when to act on a threat in the inevitable absence of perfect intelligence and how to mobilize popular support for such action, if deemed essential for national security, in a democracy that will always, and rightly, be reluctant.

The intelligence failure that preceded the Iraq war was enormously costly, and it’s certainly reasonable to argue that some of those mistakes should have been caught in advance. It’s worth noting, though, that even so respected a figure as Secretary of State Colin Powell, who went to the CIA for four days and three nights in an effort to ensure that the claims he was about to make in his February 5, 2003 speech to the U.N. were accurate, got a great deal wrong.

The case for going to war with Iraq was made in good faith — and while the war will never be popular, a good outcome in Iraq could redeem the original decision. It simply depends on what unfolds in Iraq over the next several years. Regardless, reforming and improving our intelligence agencies should rank as among the highest priorities of the next Administration. If we don’t, America’s leaders will be forced to make enormously consequential decisions while flying blind. And that’s a very bad, and dangerous, position to put them in.

Fred Hiatt has written an important column in today’s Washington Post. Hiatt has taken the time to read and carefully analyze a report released by Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.VA), chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence. Rockefeller’s charge, boiled down to its essence, is that President Bush and his Administration lied during the run-up to the war with Iraq.

“In making the case for war,” Rockefeller’s report says, “the administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when it was unsubstantiated, contradicted or even nonexistent.”

The problem with this claim, as Hiatt points out, is that in Rockefeller’s own report we learn that what President Bush said about Iraq’s nuclear weapons program, about biological weapons, production capability and mobile laboratories, about chemical weapons, and about Saddam’s alleged ties to terrorism were repeatedly “substantiated by intelligence information.” And Hiatt helpfully quotes from a statement by Rockefeller made in October 2002:

There has been some debate over how ‘imminent’ a threat Iraq poses. I do believe Iraq poses an imminent threat. I also believe after September 11, that question is increasingly outdated. . . . To insist on further evidence could put some of our fellow Americans at risk. Can we afford to take that chance? I do not think we can.

The Committee’s vice chairman, Senator Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), filed (with three other Republican senators) a minority dissent that includes many similar statements by other Democrats and points out that for all the partisan skewing of the Rockefeller report, “the reports essentially validate what we have been saying all along: that policymakers’ statements were substantiated by the intelligence.”

This judgment is consistent with the March 31, 2005 Report to the President by The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, also known as the Silberman-Robb Report, which stated

The Intelligence Community’s Iraq assessments were … riddled with errors. Contrary to what some defenders of the Intelligence Community have since asserted, these errors were not the result of a few harried months in 2002. Most of the fundamental errors were made and communicated to policymakers well before the now-infamous NIE of October 2002, and were not corrected in the months between the NIE and the start of the war. They were not isolated or random failings. Iraq had been an intelligence challenge at the forefront of U.S. attention for over a decade. It was a known adversary that had already fought one war with the United States and seemed increasingly likely to fight another. But, after ten years of effort, the Intelligence Community still had no good intelligence on the status of Iraq’s weapons programs.

Hiatt points out that some in the Bush Administration spoke with too much certainty at times, but that is a world apart from intentionally misleading people. And Hiatt’s larger point is also correct:

the phony “Bush lied” story line distracts from the biggest prewar failure: the fact that so much of the intelligence upon which Bush and Rockefeller and everyone else relied turned out to be tragically, catastrophically wrong. And it trivializes a double dilemma that President Bill Clinton faced before Bush and that President Obama or McCain may well face after: when to act on a threat in the inevitable absence of perfect intelligence and how to mobilize popular support for such action, if deemed essential for national security, in a democracy that will always, and rightly, be reluctant.

The intelligence failure that preceded the Iraq war was enormously costly, and it’s certainly reasonable to argue that some of those mistakes should have been caught in advance. It’s worth noting, though, that even so respected a figure as Secretary of State Colin Powell, who went to the CIA for four days and three nights in an effort to ensure that the claims he was about to make in his February 5, 2003 speech to the U.N. were accurate, got a great deal wrong.

The case for going to war with Iraq was made in good faith — and while the war will never be popular, a good outcome in Iraq could redeem the original decision. It simply depends on what unfolds in Iraq over the next several years. Regardless, reforming and improving our intelligence agencies should rank as among the highest priorities of the next Administration. If we don’t, America’s leaders will be forced to make enormously consequential decisions while flying blind. And that’s a very bad, and dangerous, position to put them in.

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Gone Fishing

Actually, I haven’t gone fishing. I am taking some time off to work on a book about secrecy and national security. I expect to return to this space later in the summer. If I catch any trout while sitting here in front of my computer, I will consider myself remarkably lucky.

Actually, I haven’t gone fishing. I am taking some time off to work on a book about secrecy and national security. I expect to return to this space later in the summer. If I catch any trout while sitting here in front of my computer, I will consider myself remarkably lucky.

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People Skills

If there is one episode or phrase about George W. Bush that brings howls of derision from both conservatives and liberals it is his comment after his first meeting with Vladimir Putin that “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul. ”

So we can all agree that some basic ability to assess character or at least some healthy skepticism about people with a questionable past ( say, as a KGB official) is something we would like in the next president.

And here we have Barack Obama who sold his candidacy in the Democratic primary on “judgment” — his opposition to the Iraq war. (That was largely before the surge worked and the judgment about his opposition to the surge became a concern, albeit not in the Democratic primary where praise for the surge or a nod to reality was verboten.) How is Obama in the “size ‘em up” category?

Well not only does he pick a series of disreputable characters as supporters, mentors and friends, but when they are proven to be disreputable he pleads that he was conned. John Fund reminds us of Tony Rezko:

Mr. Rezko offered Mr. Obama a job back in 1990 just as he was leaving Harvard Law School. Mr. Obama didn’t take it, but nonetheless became close to the Syrian-born political fixer. In 2005, Mr. Rezko was helpful in Mr. Obama’s purchase of a large Hyde Park house by having his wife, Rita, buy the adjoining garden on the same day Mr. Obama closed his transaction. Mr. Obama has since said the move was a “bone-headed” mistake, especially since newspapers were already full of reports that Mr. Rezko was being investigated on charges he had corruptly influenced appointments made by Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Obama could not conceive, or perhaps did not care, that Rezko was gaining chits with him. When convictions on multiple counts came, Obama professed to be saddened and surprised because this “isn’t the Tony Rezko I knew.”

Gosh, that sounds a lot like his shock and surprise over Reverend Wright. After the National Press Club fiasco, Obama declared:

I’ve known Reverend Wright for almost 20 years. The person that I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago.

Now we can be skeptics and conclude that Obama has excellent people skills and can size up anyone, but had to plead ignorance to escape association with questionable characters. Or we can take him at his word, and assume that two critical relationships in his adult life resulted from his inability to assess the character and motives of people under his nose. Which is worse?

It does give one pause since Obama declares he will engage in personal diplomacy and go toe-to-toe with many questionable characters. Perhaps we should be wary of his ability to size them up and offer reliable insights into their motives. Indeed for someone so easily hoodwinked, according to his own account, by friends he may be just the sort of person to keep far from situations with dangerous strangers where he is likely to be lulled into false impressions.

If he couldn’t discern the contours of Wright or Rezko’s soul after decades, we should be concerned  sending him out to meet rogue state leaders whose expertise lies in bamboozling well-meaning negotiators.

If there is one episode or phrase about George W. Bush that brings howls of derision from both conservatives and liberals it is his comment after his first meeting with Vladimir Putin that “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul. ”

So we can all agree that some basic ability to assess character or at least some healthy skepticism about people with a questionable past ( say, as a KGB official) is something we would like in the next president.

And here we have Barack Obama who sold his candidacy in the Democratic primary on “judgment” — his opposition to the Iraq war. (That was largely before the surge worked and the judgment about his opposition to the surge became a concern, albeit not in the Democratic primary where praise for the surge or a nod to reality was verboten.) How is Obama in the “size ‘em up” category?

Well not only does he pick a series of disreputable characters as supporters, mentors and friends, but when they are proven to be disreputable he pleads that he was conned. John Fund reminds us of Tony Rezko:

Mr. Rezko offered Mr. Obama a job back in 1990 just as he was leaving Harvard Law School. Mr. Obama didn’t take it, but nonetheless became close to the Syrian-born political fixer. In 2005, Mr. Rezko was helpful in Mr. Obama’s purchase of a large Hyde Park house by having his wife, Rita, buy the adjoining garden on the same day Mr. Obama closed his transaction. Mr. Obama has since said the move was a “bone-headed” mistake, especially since newspapers were already full of reports that Mr. Rezko was being investigated on charges he had corruptly influenced appointments made by Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Obama could not conceive, or perhaps did not care, that Rezko was gaining chits with him. When convictions on multiple counts came, Obama professed to be saddened and surprised because this “isn’t the Tony Rezko I knew.”

Gosh, that sounds a lot like his shock and surprise over Reverend Wright. After the National Press Club fiasco, Obama declared:

I’ve known Reverend Wright for almost 20 years. The person that I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago.

Now we can be skeptics and conclude that Obama has excellent people skills and can size up anyone, but had to plead ignorance to escape association with questionable characters. Or we can take him at his word, and assume that two critical relationships in his adult life resulted from his inability to assess the character and motives of people under his nose. Which is worse?

It does give one pause since Obama declares he will engage in personal diplomacy and go toe-to-toe with many questionable characters. Perhaps we should be wary of his ability to size them up and offer reliable insights into their motives. Indeed for someone so easily hoodwinked, according to his own account, by friends he may be just the sort of person to keep far from situations with dangerous strangers where he is likely to be lulled into false impressions.

If he couldn’t discern the contours of Wright or Rezko’s soul after decades, we should be concerned  sending him out to meet rogue state leaders whose expertise lies in bamboozling well-meaning negotiators.

Read Less

Old Politics, Again

The majority party in congress is pulling out all stops to assist Barack Obama’s presidential bid. According to the AP, the Dems have juggled the legislative agenda to reflect Obama’s political platform:

Between now and Election Day, Democrats say they will use Congress to showcase the kinds of change promised by their presidential candidate, Barack Obama.

Of course, this is old politics — not the shiny new brand Obama likes to trumpet.

Whatever legislation Democrats offer, it will have been vetted for the benefit of the Obama campaign as is traditional between the congressional majority and its presidential candidate.

Those who believe that Obama has not laid out a detailed platform should keep an eye on Congress. These next months will offer some useful clues about an Obama presidency. But could this support plan actually hurt Obama’s candidacy?

The majority will pass popular pork-laden legislation and claim it is in the interest of working folks. There is also a GI veterans’ benefits bill and a plan to extend healthcare to children — both of which resemble the farm bill in terms of largesse. Additionally, we can expect another economic stimulus bill. What the Democrats will not discuss is how to pay for these measures. This is feel good legislation whose real costs will be deferred until after the election. (Some legislation is strictly for show, passed with the understanding that the president will veto it immediately.) It’s a way of pandering to the electorate without remedying the underlying problems — e.g. high price of oil, slowing economy, failing families. Most importantly, the majority is counting on the effects of this legislation to go unnoticed until after the election.

The majority party in congress is pulling out all stops to assist Barack Obama’s presidential bid. According to the AP, the Dems have juggled the legislative agenda to reflect Obama’s political platform:

Between now and Election Day, Democrats say they will use Congress to showcase the kinds of change promised by their presidential candidate, Barack Obama.

Of course, this is old politics — not the shiny new brand Obama likes to trumpet.

Whatever legislation Democrats offer, it will have been vetted for the benefit of the Obama campaign as is traditional between the congressional majority and its presidential candidate.

Those who believe that Obama has not laid out a detailed platform should keep an eye on Congress. These next months will offer some useful clues about an Obama presidency. But could this support plan actually hurt Obama’s candidacy?

The majority will pass popular pork-laden legislation and claim it is in the interest of working folks. There is also a GI veterans’ benefits bill and a plan to extend healthcare to children — both of which resemble the farm bill in terms of largesse. Additionally, we can expect another economic stimulus bill. What the Democrats will not discuss is how to pay for these measures. This is feel good legislation whose real costs will be deferred until after the election. (Some legislation is strictly for show, passed with the understanding that the president will veto it immediately.) It’s a way of pandering to the electorate without remedying the underlying problems — e.g. high price of oil, slowing economy, failing families. Most importantly, the majority is counting on the effects of this legislation to go unnoticed until after the election.

Read Less

Trade

Al From, CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council (and and often a lonely voice of reason among Democrats), asks: “Where are the pro-trade Democrats?” I confess I wish he had written his effective defense of free trade in late February when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were wrestling over whose rhetoric could be the most protectionist in an effort to ingratiate themselves with Big Labor and disaffected Rust Belt state voters. But it is nice to hear that there is some recognition of reality, albeit not from anyone actually in office. From writes:

But if Democrats are serious about turning the economy around, we have to be willing to tell people that job and income growth depends on Washington’s willingness to get its fiscal house in order, invest in people and technology, and, yes, expand trade.

Well since none of the elected Democratic leadership nor the Democratic presidential nominee is telling anyone anything remotely positive about the necessity for expanding trade and removing trade barriers what does that tell us about their seriousness and readiness to govern in the 21st century?

On trade, as on Iraq, there is a sense one gets from some of the pundits and non-elected officials (even the ill-fated Austan Goolsbee and Samantha Power on the Obama camp) that the Democrats are winking at us, telling us not to worry, that it is all a big lie and that in the end they will behave responsibly and do the opposite of what they say in the campaign.

Aside from the duplicity involved, this of course never works out quite how the helpful advisors envision. Because, after all, people believe you when you run on a particular platform, a consensus is formed, interest groups’ expectations rise and it becomes virtually impossible to turn on a dime after the election without completely losing face.

So if From is right and free trade is the only and the obvious path for prosperity it is foolhardy to vote for the candidate who says the opposite in hopes that he’ll reveal himself to have been a fraud after Election Day.

Al From, CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council (and and often a lonely voice of reason among Democrats), asks: “Where are the pro-trade Democrats?” I confess I wish he had written his effective defense of free trade in late February when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were wrestling over whose rhetoric could be the most protectionist in an effort to ingratiate themselves with Big Labor and disaffected Rust Belt state voters. But it is nice to hear that there is some recognition of reality, albeit not from anyone actually in office. From writes:

But if Democrats are serious about turning the economy around, we have to be willing to tell people that job and income growth depends on Washington’s willingness to get its fiscal house in order, invest in people and technology, and, yes, expand trade.

Well since none of the elected Democratic leadership nor the Democratic presidential nominee is telling anyone anything remotely positive about the necessity for expanding trade and removing trade barriers what does that tell us about their seriousness and readiness to govern in the 21st century?

On trade, as on Iraq, there is a sense one gets from some of the pundits and non-elected officials (even the ill-fated Austan Goolsbee and Samantha Power on the Obama camp) that the Democrats are winking at us, telling us not to worry, that it is all a big lie and that in the end they will behave responsibly and do the opposite of what they say in the campaign.

Aside from the duplicity involved, this of course never works out quite how the helpful advisors envision. Because, after all, people believe you when you run on a particular platform, a consensus is formed, interest groups’ expectations rise and it becomes virtually impossible to turn on a dime after the election without completely losing face.

So if From is right and free trade is the only and the obvious path for prosperity it is foolhardy to vote for the candidate who says the opposite in hopes that he’ll reveal himself to have been a fraud after Election Day.

Read Less




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